It takes a certain audacity to try adding a new epic brand name to the sci-fi landscape. In the case of Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire, it’s an attempt so ambitious that it split itself into at least two parts before we’d even met the characters. It’s basically saying “I have the power to make myths.” Zack Snyder certainly has that audacity, but he does not have that power.


George Lucas had that power. Snyder is well aware of this. As a further sign of his chutzpah, Snyder goes so far as to name his “original” new film on Netflix in a way that evokes Star Wars in the minds of anyone who first learned the word “rebel” from the resistance fighting of Luke Skywalker and his allies. Rebel Moon has a dozen other obvious connections to the greatest science fiction brand name of all time, with a little Avatar sprinkled in and a generous dollop of iconography from Snyder’s own career. Snyder is one of three credited writers and has the story credit all to himself.

Here’s the trouble: Snyder is not a creator. The best things he’s done – Dawn of the Dead and Watchmen – originated in someone else’s brain. So did the worst things he’s done, which may be a tie between every movie he’s made featuring Superman or Batman. By playing at being a creator in this woebegone new opus, he embarrasses himself to no end.

Where to start with Rebel Moon? One angle of entry is that you can watch the whole two hours and 14 minutes and still not know what is meant by the subtitle A Child of Fire. The story is some hokum straight out of Space Opera 101. A synopsis is expected at this point, but it only does Rebel Moon a further disservice, and may require some approximating and hand waving not to get bogged down in laughable details.

The hero is Kora (Sofia Boutella), who works tilling the lands on a planet called Veldt that took her in after her ship crash-landed. Because of the planet’s ability to produce grain – though not as much as it needs to avoid starvation – Veldt becomes the target of the Motherworld, a fascist ruling empire that won’t surprise you if it bears a remarkable similarity to the one in Star Wars. The Motherworld’s king and queen have been assassinated, and now all the sneering pricks who run the organisation are on a revenge tour to wipe out perceived rebels. They need to feed their men to do that, so they come to take more crops than Veldt can spare – because that’s just what they do. A Mothership admiral named Atticus Noble (really?) clubs a local elder to death to prove a point of some kind, because that’s just what he does. (He’s played by born villain Ed Skrein.)


Kora has a history in combat and a penchant for righteous indignation, so she goes around to any number of planets to gather an army prior to the Mothership’s return in ten weeks for their purloined grain. This involves a series of 15-minute set pieces as each key member of the crew is assembled. Some have a big action scene to establish their worth, like when Doona Bae must fight off a malevolent spider with the head of Jena Malone. Others just awaken from a drunken stupor after an off-camera battle and look really sorrowful, then really angry, which I guess also establishes their worth. (That’s Djimon Hounsou as a famed general named Titus. That we see Titus do almost nothing tends to undersell his strengths as a military strategist.)

Because this is only part one of the story, Snyder contents himself with this simple assembly narrative structure, with a traditional climax because that’s what we would demand at the end of a two-hour movie. This setup only works in a scenario where we already have some investment in the stakes and some knowledge of the characters – say, a middle movie of a series preparing for a final movie. In a first movie, you’re betting a lot on the idea that we care enough about this array of B-list actors and the thinly drawn characters they’ve been assigned to play.


Each actor here has been appealing in other contexts, but none is a strong enough presence to personally elevate this material. The possible exception might be Anthony Hopkins, who voices a robot with a surprisingly little amount of screen time. “Don’t worry, we’ll get to him later,” Snyder seems to say, the second movie in the back of his mind. But it’s wishful thinking of the highest order that we’ll still be interested at that point. Crucially, this same forgetting to check in with important characters extends to our main villain, Atticus Noble (still don’t laugh), who is gone for a good 45 minutes at one point.

On a technical level, Rebel Moon also bombs. Snyder does his favoured “fast-slow-fast” technique during action sequences, which feels like an approach two decades out of fashion, but which some may still appreciate. Never in style was the sort of sloppy choreography where actors react to being hit before they’re hit, and where actors blasted by a powerful laser fall forwards instead of backwards. That’s on the fight choreographer, it’s on the continuity person, it’s on the actors themselves, but above all it’s on the director, presiding over a disaster and seeing nothing but cinematic gold.


Are there a few interesting aliens or technological gadgets or celestial bodies along the way? There are. Do these have even the slightest bearing on the quality of Rebel Moon as a movie? They do not.

Because it was conceived as at least a two-parter from the start, there is no doubt we will get the second part of Rebel Moon – called The Scargiver – in April. If Netflix hadn’t already spent all the money making the movie, though, the streamer would surely scuttle it, licking its wounds as studios have done from time immemorial when speculating on the next big sci-fi hit. It gives a critic no pleasure to herald another nail in the coffin of science fiction that isn’t based on material with secure footing in the marketplace, following in the tradition of duds like John Carter and Jupiter Ascending. Then again, Rebel Moon gives a critic no pleasure, full stop.


Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire is currently streaming on Netflix.

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